Although this post is about the best thing I ever ate, I’m bending the rules and talking about the best place I’ve ever eaten at. I love getting recommendations from friends, whether it’s a movie, song, restaurant, or whatever. And when I follow said recommendation and fall in love with it, I have no qualms with throwing that song on repeat, wearing that same outfit over and over, or returning to that same restaurant to eat that same dish. A few years ago I took a few girlfriends to San Francisco for a 30th birthday bash, and before we left, one of my friends told me that we just HAD to eat at House of Nanking. He loved it and we will too.
Sure, I said. We’ll give it a go. We had been planning on an excursion to Chinatown in search of chopsticks and what turned out to be my highlight of the day.
I had no idea that my world was going to be rocked.
And yes, it looks like my Stones shirt is licking the parking meter! Haha WOOF!
I didn’t understand the luck we had when we found House of Nanking around lunch time and were seated immediately. Located on the busy corner of Kearny St., Columbus Ave., and Jackson St., House of Nanking is a popular local and tourist destination for lunch and dinner.
My friend’s instructions were clear: tell them you’ve never been there and what food allergies you have in the group and let them feed you. When the lady came to take our order, I let her know we were 1st-timers who couldn’t have nuts, mushrooms, or fish. She quickly grabbed our menus and said that they’ll take care of us.
What followed was nothing short of a feast.
The wonton soup felt like pillows on my tongue.
The crispy honey beef didn’t leave me running for the nearest restroom in fear that the grease would be in a hurry to leave my body.
The sautéed pea shoots left me begging for the last spoonful on the platter.
Okay, Anthony Bourdain I am not, but oh how happy I was that I thought ahead and took a picture of our receipt. I knew that this wasn’t a one-time visit and I would need it for future reference.
Everything was served family style and we rolled out of the restaurant like Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. So full. So happy.
Fast-forward a few years to Labor Day weekend 2016 when I found myself on a solo trip to the Bay Area. Before I even knew what the rest of my day would bring, I knew that I would be having lunch at House of Nanking. I was ready to see if the food did justice to my memory. Was it going to be as good as I remembered? Or was I building this place up in my mind again? There’s only one way to find out.
That morning I spent some time riding the cable cars all over downtown, criss-crossing the intimidating hills and making sure those crazy tourists didn’t push me off into oncoming traffic. I hopped off a block outside of Chinatown and wove through the maze to House of Nanking. I’d forgotten that it was on the edge of Chinatown and Little Italy.
The restaurant hadn’t opened yet, so I parked it on a bench kitty-corner so I could stalk the entrance for a line. As I waited, I saw the line grow from 2 people to 10, all waiting to cram inside the tiny restaurant. Wanting to make sure I got a seat (and get away from the older Asian couple playing Pokemon Go! while crossing and re-crossing Columbus, attempting to catch…something…), I ran over and got in line.
5 minutes until opening.
1 minute. I could see the staff moving inside.
The door opened. I was ushered inside and placed right next to the door; the only 1-seater in the restaurant, which faced a sticker-covered window. Didn’t matter. I was in. And everyone walking by on Kearny St. witnessed me stuffing my face. Carpe diem I guess.
The verdict: it was better than I remembered. I didn’t eat breakfast in anticipation and had saved up specifically for this meal. I ordered way more than any normal person could eat because I was going to enjoy this meal for both lunch and as a picnic dinner in Half Moon Bay.
My absolute favorite could-eat-this-over-and-over-again dish: sautéed pea shoots. Before my first visit, I’d never eaten a pea shoot before. How many times have your friends recommended a restaurant and their “hook” was something along the lines of, “dude, they have the best pea shoots ever!” Probably never, am I right?
Appropriately stuffed and satisfied, I hobbled out of the restaurant and got into my Lyft, finally admitting to myself that walking the few miles back to my car was out of the question. No matter how many times I visit San Francisco, no matter how many other restaurants I try or cuisines I experience, I will always return to House of Nanking!
Have you ever been to House of Nanking? Have you ever eaten at a restaurant and decided that it was the best ever??